Frenzied celebration in Athens as Georgia’s Nolan Smith ‘wins’ NFL combine

Georgia defensive lineman Nolan Smith runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: ap

Credit: ap

Georgia defensive lineman Nolan Smith runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

ATHENS -- Georgia’s Nolan Smith won the NFL combine Thursday.

OK, nobody can really win such an event. But there is no question that the former Bulldogs outside linebacker and emotional team leader made himself some money with his performance before NFL executives and scouts in Indianapolis this week.

During the NFL Network’s live telecast of the event, Smith clocked what was shown to be a an unofficial 4.44-second time in the 40-yard dash. Later, the NFL changed that time to an “official” 4.39 seconds.

It was the fastest time among all position groups that day and the fastest by an edge rusher since 2003.

To put that into perspective, according to UGA historian Patrick Garbin, that was the seventh-fastest 40-yard time ever by a Georgia players in modern annals. It trailed CB Champ Bailey (4.28), RB Keith Marshall (4.31), CB Tim Jennings (4.32), WR Mecole Hardman (4.33), WR Chris Conley (4.35) and DB Lewis Cine (4.37), who are all “skill-position” players.

Meanwhile, after getting measured in at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, Smith also posted a 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. His vertical also was No. 1 and his broad jump was third. Gabriel Burns, one of two AJC sports reporters in Indianapolis covering the combine, posted a story shortly after Smith completed his workout.

Probably the most enjoyable part of the entire exercise was seeing the reaction of Smith’s Georgia teammates to his performance. And, then, Smith’s reaction to their reaction.

The Bulldogs were tuning into the combine on the NFL Network on three big screen televisions in their locker room at UGA’s Butts-Mehre football complex. The whole lot of them went berserk after seeing Smith smoke the 40.

After completing his workout, Smith was interviewed on the NFL Network about his big day and shown his teammates’ reaction. Smith was obviously delighted by that.

Asked by the NFL Network reporter Stacy Dales where it was his teammates were watching him, Smith took the ball and ran with it. He turned the interview segment into a one-minute recruiting pitch for Georgia.

“They were in our locker room, man!,” the always excitable Smith said, excitably. “Our locker room is amazing. You see the three TVs. If you ever want to go to Georgia we’ve got a new locker room, new weight room. Let me give my spiel on Georgia,” Smith said following his stunning workout. “We have an indoor facility, outdoor facility, we just put in a brand new restaurant. Let me say that again, a restaurant. It’s called Bones. It’s amazing. Shoutout to Ms. C, Collier (Madaleno) our nutritionist, she’s amazing. We eat steak, lobster, the best of the best. Go Dawgs and go to Georgia.”

While Smith’s pitch certainly helped his team Thursday, the Savannah native definitely helped himself. After missing the second half of last season due to a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the Florida game, Smith was generally seen as a second- or third-round prospect coming into combine.

He left Indianapolis considered a potential first-rounder.

Based on Thursday’s results, NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler moved up Smith to No. 19 on his Top 100 overall prospect board.

Smith surprised many by returning to Georgia in 2022. He was viewed as borderline first-rounder after the Bulldogs won the 2021 national championship. After the injury, Smith’s draft stock plummeted, according to army of draft analysts that occupy the Internet.

Smith said he was aware.

“I turned off the mock drafts, I turned off my phone, I picked up a book,” Smith said Thursday. “You can’t hurt me. I wanted to create an iron mind that nobody can hurt me. No matter what you say about me, I’m going to work.”

That hard work certainly showed Thursday. Represented by agent Trey Smith of Athletes First, Smith will put on another show for scouts on March 15 when the NFL visits Athens for UGA Pro Day. He told reporters that he plans to participate in on-field drills then. He didn’t in Indy.

“I just felt like I couldn’t be 100 percent in the drills, so I’m going to save everything else for the Pro Day and show everybody I can still move around and I can still run,” Smith said.

He might’ve done all the proving he needed already.